FLIGHT SURGEON LIEUTENANT DONALD M. DILL

By Kimberley (Dill) Graham

On November 18, 1955, I was delivered into the arms of a stellar beauty queen and a dashing young medical student in the fair city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  During the day, my mother and I performed typical 1950s housewife chores and primped, in eager anticipation of our knight in shining armor’s return. We were a beautiful young family, full of promise and hope.

Jan and Don Dill had been teenage sweethearts and were now youthful adults setting out on their quest for the All-American Dream.  Deeply in love and blessed with enormous passion, the “perfect ones” were an idyllic couple.  They quickly completed our family with the addition of my two fine-looking brothers.

My parents grew up together in Ohio.  They came from similar backgrounds; their parents were restaurateurs of German and French descent.  It was a wholesome beginning, with my father a star football player and my mother a cheerleader, homecoming prom queen and beauty pageant winner.  Janet Reller and Donald Dill were the envy of their small hometown, and were the most likely to succeed in life and in the fulfillment of The Dream.

After graduating at the top of his class at Jefferson Memorial Medical School, my father interned at the hospital of the same name.  My mother was his stunningly gorgeous stay-at-home wife and mother of his three adorable children.  My parents managed on very little money, driven by the assurance of a brighter future.

In order to further his career as well as fulfill his duty to God and Country, my father joined the Navy in an officer program where he served as a Lieutenant Flight Surgeon. We were whisked away to Pensacola, Florida, where my father received his military training.  After completing a tour of duty in South America, he was commissioned to the Naval Air Station on North Island, across the bay from San Diego, California. We arrived in 1960, settling into the officers’ quarters directly across from the airstrip. It was a good life, with the guarantee of it only getting better.

North Island shared a rock-bed peninsula with the bright and sunny beach town of Coronado – the “The Crown City” or, “Emerald Isle”.  It got its name from when it was separated from the town by a channel of water dubbed “The Spanish Bight”.  When the Navy took over the island, it filled in the channel, turning North Island and Coronado into one land mass.

As kids, my brothers and I lived in a fantasyland of constant adventure as we explored every nook and cranny of North Island.  We ran wild with no cares.  We played in the “enchanted forest” behind our home (a small grove of eucalyptus trees that separated us from the rest of the world).  We climbed trees and fences.  We swam in the Officers’ Club pool every day and frequented the base’s private beach, where we built sand castles and wiggled our little toes in the warm comforting sand while eating hot greasy French Fries smothered in ketchup.  Each morning we awoke to the rumbling engines of jet fighters readying for military maneuvers.  It was a child’s paradise, rivaling any created by the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson or Daniel Defoe.

On Sundays, we went to church where my mother assisted in the Sunday school.  We always dressed to the nines, with my mother adorned in harmonizing hats or bonnets decorated with an array of flowers, bows and ribbons matching her superb coiffure.  As with all of the talented housewives of her generation, Janet found immense pleasure in creating her own hats, dresses and suits.  She took great pride in dressing us in matching outfits for all to admire, her handsome Lieutenant husband/Prince Valiant gracing her side.

After our obligatory morning at church, we attended the double feature at the base’s theater.  Every movie show began with a black and white news communiqué warning us of the Communists who, we were informed, were coming to get us.  We lived in fright of this threat.  It was very real to us, and I remember being terrified that my father would be called away to war.  That fear is still vivid in my memory.

Another crystal-clear memory of living on North Island is of President Dwight D. Eisenhower passing by our home, waving to us from inside a convertible absent of Secret Servicemen.  Life was easy then.  People were not afraid for their president’s safety.  John F. Kennedy and the tragedy of losing our president was still years away.

In 196o, after three years of base living, the Dill family continued its pursuit of the All-American Dream. Having successfully served his naval commission, my father was once more a civilian.  Dr. James Mushovic asked him to join his small family practice in Coronado.  The office was located in a very small building on the corner of Eighth Street and Orange Avenue, and was the type of practice where doctors delivered babies and made house calls.  My father readily agreed to join medical forces with “Doctor Jim”.

As there was no medical insurance in those days, people paid what they could; yet, my father never had to worry about affording repairs or paying for groceries. Dr. Mushovic and Dr. Dill knew all of their patients on a first-name basis, and knew the names of all their family members, having delivered most of them.

My parents soon began their search for our first home.  They found it in a lovely Spanish style abode at 1132 Glorietta Boulevard.  It was a two-story house  – a mansion by our standards – with a large back yard, a lanai, and a maid’s quarters over the garage.  Directly across from the home lay the Coronado Municipal Golf Course, beyond which one enjoyed breathtaking views of the exquisite Glorietta Bay and Pacific Ocean.  There were no Coronado Shores then; you really did see the ocean from our top floor, the only obstacle being the “Castle” standing guard over the town’s pristine beaches.  The Castle, of course, was the magically enchanting Hotel Del Coronado.  In that year, my parents purchased this sprawling property for the hefty sum of $13,500.

With our time on North Island come to an end, we moved into our spacious home on Glorietta Boulevard – the best street in town, in many of the locals’ opinion – and onto a new fantasy life for the Dill family, with the promise of bigger dreams coming true.  The adventures were about to begin – and surely they did.  As a young child and remembering back, this is the way I saw my life.

In progress…

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2 Responses to FLIGHT SURGEON LIEUTENANT DONALD M. DILL

  1. John says:

    Hi Kim,
    This is a really great letter about your Parents. I’m glad you posted it for all of us “kids” that grew up with you and your brothers. When we were young Doc Dill was always looking out for us when we got messed up both on the field and off and we all wanted a ride in the Excalibur! John

  2. Lucy Irvine McVey says:

    Once again very well stated. Being an officers kid and living by the ocean I can remember the Bridge parties, fancy cocktail parties, etc at my home. Life was so different back then. Keep up the great work.

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